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June 25, 2022

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Camas company’s training simulators have real impact for U.S Air Force

By , Columbian Innovation Editor
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Switches sit on an Airborne Warning and Control System block at the PLEXSYS office in Camas. The business designs modeling and simulation software for air forces.
Switches sit on an Airborne Warning and Control System block at the PLEXSYS office in Camas. The business designs modeling and simulation software for air forces. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

On the border of Camas Meadows golf course, there’s a software company that’s changing the way that air forces around the world train their recruits. It’s about to get into the space industry, too.

Sean Sweat, a modeling and simulation subject matter expert, maneuvered a computer mouse in the PLEXSYS headquarters as he stared at a screen that looked like a war simulation video game. A scattering of aircraft icons on the screen simulated an air attack on Australian territory by a faux Chinese air force.

Sweat, running a simulation with PLEXSYS’ software, fired an AIM-120 missile at a single opposing aircraft; a sliver of pixels simulated the missile as it approached the enemy plane.

“I just killed it,” he said as the plane disappeared from the screen.

PLEXSYS is a rapidly growing company that’s building training simulators for the U.S. Air Force and other air forces, including Australia’s. The company has some unique characteristics: It’s employee-owned, and its mostly ex-military workers are stationed across the world. The company encourages its employees to get involved in local communities — their human resources director was just elected mayor of Washougal.

Near the towering Rocky Mountains lies the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. It’s the location of PLEXSYS’ newest “multi-domain lab” that opened in November. The lab brings together a group of Air Force trainees in multiple rooms filled with computer screens and hardware similar to what’s found in military aircraft. The trainees each occupy a position that controls an air force simulation.

“If you were to encounter a force that had a great deal of surface-to-air missiles, how would you counteract them to get your assets into that theater without jeopardizing their safety?” asked Jeremy Barskey, business development manager at PLEXSYS. “Can you look for surface-to-air missiles? Can you destroy them?”

These are the types of scenarios being played out in the lab, which Barskey helped create. The students can train remotely, from other locations across the country, using communication systems developed by PLEXSYS.

Some trainees sit in virtual cockpits, with control consoles, flight controls, thrusters and pedals. Others focus on raw radar data. All of these trainees are talking through scenarios and working together to achieve a goal.

The lab launched in November, so its first round of cadets are still in training and haven’t yet been able to apply their skills in a real-world mission. But the lab’s mission is established.

“This puts fewer American lives in jeopardy,” Barskey said. “We’re developing a tactical or game plan on addressing a particular concern.”

Employee owned

In 1986, John Ledoux founded PLEXSYS in Camas and in 2014 turned it into an employee-owned company. In 2016, current CEO and president Ron Wiegand took over.

“When (Ledoux) wanted to exit, he could have sold it, but he elected to invest and share the profits with the people who got him there,” Wiegand said.

Since Wiegand took over, the company’s revenue and employee count have doubled, reaching about 243 employees. The business last year bought its building for $6.9 million, according to county property records. Most employees work remotely, but the company has reached maximum capacity in Camas, where the it plans to stay.

PLEXSYS is in the early stages of developing software to be used by space agencies that can train people to use systems for replicating orbiting satellites, launching missiles, “jamming” enemy hardware, and more.

“We’re starting to explore how we can take what we already have and bring it to the space domain,” Wiegand said. “What are the space offensive and defensive capabilities, and what scenarios may play out? Eventually, we want to join all domains in a command control: air, land, maritime, space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum.”

Community service

While the company pursues its space-age training software, it’s also trying to promote a healthy community service atmosphere.

Rochelle Ramos, human resources director, said that employees receive paid hours to use for community service; and Ramos has grown into that culture enough to run for mayor. She was recently sworn into office.

“I probably wouldn’t have done it without working for PLEXSYS,” Ramos said. “It’s because of our work-life balance.”

Security has to be tight online, too. Military defense software draws cyberattacks from hostile countries, but PLEXSYS is well-equipped to defeat them.

“We have nonstop cyberattacks,” Wiegand said. “They’re from all the countries you hear about on the news.”

This article was updated to accurately reflect the capitalization of PLEXSYS and Sean Sweat’s title.


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